Full Steam Ahead: CA Legislature Passes High-speed Rail Bill [UPDATE]

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UPDATE

As expected, members of the California State Assembly voted Thursday afternoon to approve the initial $8 billion in funding for the high-speed rail. Final vote came in at 51 to 28.

Passage of Brown’s funding proposal through the upper house was a lot more difficult, with several Democratic members representing the Bay Area and Los Angeles uncertain.

Senator Joe Simitian (D- Palo Alto), one of the key Democratic swing votes, took to the floor to express his support for the ultimate vision of high-speed rail, but staunch opposition to the plan at hand. He closed his floor speech by calling it the wrong plan, in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

“There are billions of reasons why none of us should simply go along with the program.”

In the end, the final vote was extremely close and gained passage through the Senate with a bare minimum of 21 votes. 16 members voted against the funding proposal including four Democrats.

Today California lawmakers will finally vote on the state’s contentious high-speed rail project. The vote entails approving billions of dollars in new spending for the rail and all of its related developments.

Governor Jerry Brown released his final funding proposal for the project on Wednesday. It essentially tied the survival of the high-speed rail deal to additional funding for Caltrain. The money designated for Caltrain, a popular commuter service that is in desperate need of an overhaul, was originally slated for a separate proposal and vote. At the center of Gov. Brown’s latest plan is an approximate $6 billion in funding for the first stretch of the high-speed rail track through the central valley. If approved, work on the project is set to begin early next year and completion of the $69 billion rail connecting San Francisco to Los Angeles is expected by 2030.

Republican lawmakers in the state have made their uniform opposition to the plan clear, and today’s vote is likely to be a close one. Approval of the plan hinges on a few key Democratic members that still appear to be on the fence about funding the project. Democratic members have been subject to intense pressure from both the state and federal level, as both Gov. Brown and President Obama have made the high-speed rail a priority.

Although Legislative approval of the plan would signal a huge victory for Gov. Brown who has long championed the effort, it may in turn hamper chances for his November tax initiative. The most recent Field Poll indicates that while the majority of California voters are currently willing to support Gov. Brown’s tax hike at the polls, support will swing the other way should the Legislature approve spending billions of dollars on the proposed rail project. 21% of those currently in support of Gov. Brown’s tax initiative are less likely to support the tax increase if the rail funding gains passage this Friday.

Editor’s Note: Check back at IVN later for an update on the high-speed rail project after today’s vote.